The Elder Law Forum

The Elder Law Forum By Michael Myers In Politics: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Attention Medicare beneficiaries with low incomes! Some 20 million of you will be receiving applications from the Social Security Administration for financial assistance with Medicare's new prescription drug benefit.

The applications will be mailed by late May, to coincide with a nationwide effort to inform people of the new drug benefit and the additional subsidies available to those with low incomes.

"Dual eligibles" � some 6 million persons receiving both Medicare and Medicaid � will automatically be enrolled in the program without completing applications.

My advice: "Fill it out!" The drug benefit has substantial value. It provides a 75 percent subsidy worth some $1,250 a year for the drug benefit, and $2,200 a year in extra assistance to persons with low incomes.

The form is more complex and more extensive than it should be. Nevertheless, do not be intimidated. Provide the information requested and mail it back as soon as practicable. If you need assistance, call the USD Senior Legal Helpline.

The drug coverage becomes available to all Medicare beneficiaries in January. About one-third � 14 million beneficiaries � will be eligible for the low-income subsidies, which can reduce or eliminate premiums, deductibles, co-payments and others costs.

Historically, response to such mailings among low income persons has been about 1 to 2 percent. Reasons include an ignorance of the benefit, skepticism about the program, the stigma of receiving a benefit, or the application process itself.

It is important to remember that if you apply for the subsidy you must also apply separately for the drug benefit.

There is a perjury warning on the form, which is standard language in all applications for government assistance. Again, do not be intimidated. Answer the questions to be the best of your knowledge.

The form has been criticized by advocates for the low income people who predict that fewer than 5 percent of recipients will respond, giving credence to that cynical bromide, "No good deed goes unpunished!" � even in politics, when one party tries to demonstrate it cares as much for the elderly as does the other.

(Pro bono legal information and advice is available to persons 55 and older through the USD Senior Legal Helpline, 1-800-747-1895; mmyers@usd.edu)

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